Monday, April 5, 2010

Mischief by Douglas Clegg

Clegg is another writer whom (like Jack Ketchum) has somehow managed to go under my radar over the past couple of years. Recently, however, the author's presence seems to be everywhere: social media; websites dealing exclusively in dark fiction ... and of course having his titles pop out with ever-increasing reliability in book stores and their bargain bins displayed out front. And (like Ketchum), seems to be one of those sculpting a high reputation, releasing a novel every year with timely precision and garnering distinct words of praise while doing so.   

Apparently Mischief is the first of a trilogy in the Harrow Academy series, which also features a previous e-serial prequel Nightmare House ... and the entire thing (does) read like something you must have prior knowledge of. In this regard, my ignorance was frustrating; contained within were too many mysteries that lacked revelation; too many character reactions that were perplexing. However, other's will no doubt be overly intimate with the Harrow legacy … and it seems written with these reader's in mind.

Jim Hook is on a scholarship at Harrow, a prestigious prep school located in the Hudson Valley of New York. Years before his older brother Stephen and father perished in a car accident, and the wounds are still raw. Not only was Stephen the epitome of a perfect brother everybody looked up to, he was also a catalyst for shaping Jim’s philosophy and might have secreted a small supernatural pledge into Jim’s life in the aftermath of his death. We follow Jim as he adapts to the all-boys school and are introduced to the people around him: Lark, his beau from a nearby all-Girl's school; popular Trey Fricker, his best friend. And underlying everything is an almost invisible threat, never clearly articulated. It appears when his brother Stephen died, Jim unwittingly became a channel that would potentially enable something malign to enter the world ... and when Jim gets caught for cheating, he is inadvertently thrust into the realm of the Cadaver Society, a secret fraternity who have been pulling the strings at Harrow for a long time. Facing the threat of expulsion and upcoming initiation rights, he becomes haunted by ghosts of the living and dead ... 

A favorable thing for me was the prose; Cleggs style is simplistic and easily accessible. But there are many puzzling aspects here like signposts with no clear direction: a plot-strand involving Harrow’s principal that is curtailed before it even begins; the mystery of his father and brother's death with allusions the official story involved a conspiracy. As a reader, I felt as if I had been handed a pile of jigsaw pieces, none of which seemed to belong to the same portrait. Clegg puts a ton of effort into making the climax creepy ... but (for me), the aim was too lofty, and ultimately confusion ensues. That’s not to say other reader's won’t find things to like - and I can see it appealing to those who like their horror with a smattering of the juvenile.

As a novice to Clegg’s work, I think I (may) have stumbled upon the wrong book to get the juggernaut rolling. However, Mischief will  pique your curiosity, and I have the novels You Come When I Call You and The Halloween Man with appraisals to follow.